Date: Mon, 26 Aug 1996 14:28:53 -0700 Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for August 26, 1996 n nn A
Date: Mon, 26 Aug 1996 14:28:53 -0700
Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for August 26, 1996
Reply-To: firstname.lastname@example.org, AMERICAN.ATHEISTS@listserv.direct.net
nnnnnnnnnn AANEWS nnnnnnnnn
#139 uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu 8/26/96
In This Issue...
* San Jose Case -- "Selective Separationism"?
* Religious Groups Scramble to Save S.F. Cross
* School District Can't Operate "Believers-Only" Class
* A Special Offer ~ About This List...
CITY DIDN'T VIOLATE FIRST AMENDMENT WITH AZTEC STATUE
Suit May Indicate Trend Of "Selective Separationism"
A 10-ton sculpture of the Aztec serpent god, Quetzalcoatl is not a
violation of the First Amendment, a federal appeals court in San Francisco
ruled last Friday. According to Judge Thomas Nelson, the unanimous finding
was based upon the fact that "While there was no question that Quetzalcoatl
was at one time a religious figure, the parties agreed that...a symbol must
have current religious adherents to be considered religion."
But a conservative group known as the United States Justice Foundation
claimed that the serpent deity is allegedly a religious symbol in the Mormon
faith, as well as new age movements and what Associated Press termed a
"growing spiritual movement among Zapatista revolutionaries in southern
In a 3-0 ruling, judges ruled that the Foundation had not made its case,
and demonstrated a clear, actionable connection.
The statue was commissioned by the City of San Jose to commemorate Mexican
and Spanish contributions to the area's cultural heritage; the artist was
Robert Graham. The foundation filed suit in November, 1994, prior before the
official dedication of the Quetzalcoatl sculpture at Plaza de Cesar Chavez.
According to media reports, the United States Justice Foundation is not
planning an appeal of the case -- a development which some First Amendment
activist see as unusual, considering recent court rulings on behalf of
state-church separation. Last week, for instance, a panel in the same court
ruled that the 103-foot cross on San Francisco's Mount Davidson is a clear
violation of the California Constitution's declaration of state-church
separation and official neutrality toward religious belief. Unlike the
Serpent God statue, the cross is widely acknowledged as a symbol of a widely
Some organizations, like San Jose's Christian Center see a contradiction.
Garland Covington, a minister, told media: "It's strange that they decided in
favor (of the sculpture) but rule against the Mount Davidson corss. The
issue was watched very closely by the city's Christian community. It seems
that government wants to put down anything having to do with Christianity,
but promote every other religion.
But whatever merits the San Jose case might have, the more revealing
message may have to do with certain groups promoting "religion-specific"
First Amendment cases. The United States Justice Foundation may be an
The group is registered with the City of Escondido, and headed by Gary E.
Keep. In 1994, the Foundation was active in efforts to stop California
schools from using the California Learning Assessment System test, which some
parents had charged asked students invasive questions. That initiative
attracted support from a number of religious activists, including members of
Phyllis Schlafley's Eagle Forum.
The Foundation head is an unlikely person for the role of First Amendment
activist -- political operative Gary Kreep. In addition to being Executive
Director of USJF, he is affiliated with "numerous California-based Republican
organizations" and was on the National Board of Directors of Young Americans
for Freedom, a group which has endorsed school prayer efforts. He is also
affiliated with CPAC'96, a conservative political action committee. In
February, Mr. Kreep participated in a series of meetings sponsored by CPAC,
which featured Bill Bennett of Empower America, Christian Coalition Director
Ralph Reed, Gary Bauer of Family Research Council, Iran-Contra crook Ollie
North, and even L. Brent Bozell, in-law of William F. Buckleyand a "Catholic
fundamentalist" who headed the anti-abortion "Sons of Thunder" movement. Mr.
Kreep acted as chairman of one of the CPAC meeting panels titled "Do You Want
the Clintons Raising Your Children," which featured an address by "family
values" and school prayer maven Phyllis Schlafly.
This isn't the first time that a questionable state-church separation case
has been initiated by groups and individuals of suspect First Amendment
credentials. In June, US District Judge William Downes ruled against a
National Park Service ban on commercially guided climbs of "Devil's Tower," a
striking landmark which had been featured in the popular movie "Close
Encounters of the Third Kind." The suit was filed on behalf of tour guides
by a group known as Mountain States Legal Foundation, a conservative group
based in Denver with ties to the wealthy Coors family. That case was
interpreted by some as less a defense of state-church separation, and a
selective attack on the American Indian Freedom of Religion Act. One attorney
for the Foundation compared the ban on climbing during a month considered
"sacred" by Indians to Baptists wanting to close the Mississippi River for
What is interesting about both the Wyoming and San Jose suits is that they
concerned the possible involvement of distinctly "minority" religions, and
involve organizations linked to individuals or movements who -- rather than
being active in separationism -- are, in fact, linked to prayer-in-school
Even so, there may be merits to both cases despite their identification
with certain partisan individuals. The San Jose case may even be a "trojan
horse," in that it actually affirms arguments which are popular with
prayer-in-school advocates and other "Religious Liberty" defenders, who often
present their case by insisting that religious displays and symbols in public
are defensible since they represent "cultural" or "historical" themes.
Indeed, San Jose City Attorney Joan Gallo, according to Associated Press,
"said she harbored no doubts that the court would reach the decision that it
ultimately did." Gallo stated that the justices "analyzed all the claims and
rejected them...This was strictly a matter of art and culture, not religion."
RELIGIOUS GROUPS SCRAMBLE TO PRESERVE SAN FRANCISCO CROSS
A newly formed group of Christian religious leaders is scrambling to save
a 103-foot cross which overlooks San Francisco from the wrecking ball. They
want the city to sell them the land on which the 62-year old religion symbol
sits -- this after a U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that the structure violates
the California Constitution and undermines state-church separation.
The so-called "Mount Davidson cross" was built by the city in 1932, and
continued a long tradition of planting Christian religious symbols around the
area on public lands. . The mountain is the highest peak in the city, and
was also the site for an annual Easter sunrise service; it has also had four
wooden crosses erected there prior to the extant concrete structure.
City Supervisor Amos Brown wants to have San Francisco sell the property
on which the cross site to a religious "interfaith" group at the land-office
price of $1 -- a disingenuous move which itself may be grounds for a court
challenge. Brown is pastor of a local Baptist congregation. And the San
Francisco Chronicle reports that a Mount Davidson Support Foundation is
"waiting in the wings," according to Rev. P.T. Mammen of the San Francisco
Association of Evangelicals. Mammen told the paper that while the group is
"not formally incorporated," it hopes to "step in" and purchase the property.
The ad-hoc group reportedly includes Catholics, Pentacostals, Orthodox
Christians and Protestants.
"Serious questions remain, however, as to whether the city can sell the
land containing the cross," notes The Chronicle, "and if it does, whether it
could give preference to a church group, or ensure that the 103-foot concrete
and steel cross is preserved by a private owner."
From The Editor ~ Look for a detailed analysis of the Mt. Davidson ruling
in our next issue of AANEWS...
COURT STRIKES DOWN RELIGIOUS SCHOOL, PUBLIC FUNDING
A Federal Discourt Court as declared that a public school district in
Minnesota may not operate a special school exclusively for members of a
religious sect. The case involves the Wabasso Area School District in Vesta,
Minnesota, which used taxpayer monies to run a one-room facility for children
who belonged to a group known as the Brethren. In September, 1993, the
district began holding classes in a building which had been purchased by one
Lloyd Paskewitz, a member of the Brethren church, which he "leased back" to
the district free of charge. According to a statement by American Civil
Liberties Union, "As part of the agreement, the school district agreed to
eliminate technology and media such as computers, television, radio, movies
or films from the classroom because of the Brethren's religious objections."
Other objections by the religious group included having their children not
eat in the presence of non-church members, or receive any instruction in
health, music or physical education.
Even though the District operated the special school, "no non-Brethren
The ruling, handed down last Thursday by Judge Michael Davis, found that
the school -- operated by a public district -- was in violation of the First
Amendment. Davis noted that "the School District...create(d) an
impermissible identification of its powers and duties with the religious
beliefs of the Brethren by agreeing to open the Vesta school in a building
owned by a Brethren members, and in a manner expressed by the Brethren. The
fact that no religion is taught in the school does not affect the
constitutional violation of this case."
ACLU noted that the court rejected the school district's argument that it
was merely accomodating religious belief, stating that "accomodation is not a
principle without limits." The court ruled: "At some point, an accomodation
may devolve into an unlawful fostering of religion."
Ironically, the school district's legal defense was provided by a
little-known but influence group known as The Becket Fund for Religious
Liberty, an organization headed by attorney Kevin Hasson. A letter sent to
supporters in May, 1995 by bible-discipline guru James Dobson of Focus on the
Family mentioned The Becket Fund as one of 11 religious groups that Focus was
joining in an effort to promote a Religious Equality Amendment which would
legalize prayer in public schools. The Fund also provided testimony before
the House Judiciary Committee when the "Istook version" of the Amendment was
under consideration and public comment; other groups working with the Fund
included Family Research Council, National Association of Evangelicals, and
the Traditional Values Coalition.
In addition, the Becket Fund cosponsored a conference with the Vatican's
Pontifical Council for Culture in Rome earlier this year. Mr. Hasson
remarked at that gathering that the banning of nativity scenes and other
religious displays from public had resulted in a condition where religion
"becomes something which pornography used to be: You can do it only in
private, in your own home."
The suit against the school district was co-sponsored by ACLU and
Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
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